If you are interested in military history and war museums, London will be a real treat for you. There is a fantastic collection of war museums in London that tell the story of military conflicts around the world, and the museums on offer cover a wide range of subjects.
Some museums, such as the Royal Air Force Museum, focus on a specific branch of the British military, while others focus on crucial military events and war-related locations, such as the Churchill War Room.
The Imperial War Museum
If you only have time to visit a military museum in London, then I highly recommend this one. Like a number of other military museums in this list, is run by the Imperial War Museums organisation.
Opened in 1917, the Imperial War Museum covers modern military conflicts from the First World War to the present day. Exhibitions are divided into several themes, with a strong emphasis on history from the perspective of those who lived through each experience. The exhibits include the First World War, the Holocaust and the Secret War – the latter explores the history of espionage and the work of British Special Forces.
Naturally, there are many items to look at including military equipment, uniforms and so on. The display in the atrium is particularly impressive, with items such as a Harrier jet, a Spitfire and a V-2 rocket.
Churchill War Rooms
It is the most popular war museum in London and probably the best known. Part of the Imperial War Museums, this museum is located in a veritable underground bunker where Prime Minister Winston Churchill coordinated the British war effort.
The museum is divided into two parts. The focus is on the history of the Cabinet War Rooms, and this part of the museum takes you through the underground complex where the British government command centre was located, through Churchill’s Transatlantic Secret Telephone, the bedrooms and the Map Room.
The other part of the museum tells the story of Winston Churchill himself, where you can admire a large number of objects related to the man, including personal belongings, letters and even the door of 10 Downing Street when he was Prime Minister.
Royal Air Force Museum London
If you are particularly interested in specific branches of the military, and if you are interested in everything related to wartime theft then this museum is for you. Spread over five buildings and huge hangars, this museum tells the whole story of the Royal Air Force, as well as the history of aviation in general. With more than 100 aircraft on display, ranging from early biplanes like the Sopwith Camel to modern bombers. Naturally, there are also many “famous” aircraft models from various wars, including the Lancaster Bomber, Spitfire and Hurricane. There is a lot to see in this museum, with an entire hangar dedicated to aviation history, while another covers the bombers. There are also engines and uniforms on display, and you can easily spend at least half a day here.
National Army Museum London
Reopened in March 2017 after extensive redevelopment, the Chelsea National Army Museum is the main museum of the British Army. This museum covers the history of the British Army through five galleries, from the English Civil War in the 1640s to modern conflicts.
The galleries, which span four floors and contain over 2,500 objects, are divided into five themes, Soldier, Army, Battle, Society and Insight.
These start with a walk through the changing life of a soldier through the centuries, before moving on to the history and evolution of the army itself. The Battle gallery covers key battles and tactics spanning nearly four centuries of conflict, while the Society gallery looks at the impact of these conflicts and the army itself on British society as a whole. Finally, the Insight Gallery examines the impact of the British Army’s activities around the world.
This structure is clearly thought out and a visit to the museum is a fascinating experience, with lots of interactive information and military material. This is an excellent museum that we highly recommend!
National Maritime Museum
After covering the other two branches of the British Army, you would naturally expect to find a museum dedicated to the Royal Navy, the oldest branch of the army. And you’re right. However, the National Museum of the Royal Navy is in Portsmouth and not in London. Nevertheless, there are two excellent museums in London where you can learn more about British military activities at sea. The first is the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The museum houses a wide range of maritime exhibits illustrating the history of life at sea, from exploration to battles, with naval subjects including the Battle of Trafalgar and the battles of the First World War. There is also a gallery dedicated to Nelson and the Royal Navy, entitled “Nelson, Navy, Nation”, which traces the history of the Royal Navy from 1688 to 1815.
The National Maritime Museum is in Greenwich, which has enough attractions to keep you busy for a whole day there like the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark, among others.
The Guards Museum
This museum covers five regiments of “foot” guards in the British Army, in particular the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards.
The Guards Museum contains a wealth of information and artifacts related to these five regiments, and serves as an education centre for new members of the Guard to learn about their regimental heritage. The different roles of the Guards are explained in detail, and overall it is an excellent museum if you want to know more about the specific role of these regiments within the British Army.
During your stay, don’t miss the guards’ chapel, located opposite the museum and free of charge. This is the spiritual home of the Household Division, and the walls are decorated with the colours worn by the foot guards since 1770. Also, don’t miss the museum shop, known as the Guards Toy Soldier. It’s free to visit, and has hundreds of toys with a toy soldier theme (children will love it), and the museum shop, known as the Guards Toy Soldier. It’s free to visit, and has hundreds of toys on the theme of toy soldiers (children will love it).
The HMS Belfast
If you enjoy the experience rather than seeing objects behind glass, you’ll love the HMS Belfast. This Museum Ship, moored on the Thames just off Tower Bridge in London, was originally a light cruiser of the Royal Navy that participated in World War II and the Korean War. This included support for the bombing of the Normandy beach landings in 1944.
The HMS retired in 1963, and following a period of debate over its future, it opened to the public in 1971 as a museum, becoming a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978.
This historic warship can now be fully explored by visitors. On board, you will learn all about life aboard the 950-man crew, both in war and peace, between the Second World War and 1963. It’s a truly fascinating exhibition!